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Structuring small-group tasks

Often teachers know they want to have children "work in groups," but they are uncertain about how to make this time productive. This resource focuses on the management aspects of planning small-group work. For tools that help you consider appropriate tasks, go to Designing activities for group work.

This list of questions is designed to help you effectively plan and manage group work:

Questions to consider

How do you plan to use group work?
  • Will group-problem solving be occasionally incorporated into your lessons or will you have a regular time set aside for it each week?
  • What are the advantages and challenges of each system?
  • How long do you think the children in your class can be productive doing group work?
  • What will it be possible for them to get done in that time?

How will you group children and how frequently will you change groups?

  • How might having the same groups for a month cut down on management issues? What might some concerns be?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of random grouping (such as by using a deck of cards to assign groups)?
  • What about purposeful heterogeneous grouping?
  • What about grouping by skill level or interest?
  • Which of these might work best for long-term work and which might be better for occasional activities?

How do you set ground rules for group work?

  • Under what circumstances can children call the teacher over for help?
  • How will you model and enforce appropriate noise levels?
  • Under what circumstances can children get out of their seats?
  • What positive reinforcements can you offer for cooperation or appropriate behavior? Will these be group or individual rewards? How will students know you are observing their interactions?
  • How can you use modeling to teach rules for group work?
  • What kinds of debriefing after a task might help children learn to work well in groups?

How can you hold children accountable for their work and behavior during group time?

  • Does your school give feedback on report cards about social interactions? If it does, how could you use group time to assess this skill?
  • How can you design tasks that require each student to participate in some way but still allow groups the freedom to negotiate the kind of work they will do?
  • Will students receive grades individually or as a team?
  • What will you do if a group agrees that one student is causing problems?

This tool could also be used as an observation framework to help teachers observe and analyze each other's lessons.